Some Thoughts On Life, Hate, and Action in the Post-Normal

I began writing this post several days ago. Since then several people have written and spoken about similar issues, some with more international experience, others with more journalism experience, others through Twitter threads, and others with more emotion. There have also been many “letters to my child” articles. And now John Oliver has weighed in, as well. This post is a combination of sorts with some additional storytelling and indignation. Thanks for reading.

* * *

She says, in this house it’s so easy
To set a world on fire, all you need is a name, the money
And a soul full of reckless desire
Now upstairs the landlord is dining with all of his very close friends
Don’t worry they’ll have their bags packed and be long gone
Before the real fucking begins
—Bruce Springsteen, “Hey Blue Eyes”

Around 1:30 on Wednesday morning, when it became clear what the outcome of the election would be, I said to my wife, “This is it. It’s over. There was yesterday. There was today. But there is no tomorrow. Not in the way we imagined it. Everything we believe in will be taken away overnight. Voting rights. Marriage rights. Medical rights. Social programs. Education funding. Environmental funding. Abortion rights. It’s all gone. We’ll be in a recession before we wake up. Russia will invade the Ukraine and we’ll be at war by summer.”

I had just come from my boys’ rooms where I knelt next to each as he slept, kissed each on his forehead, and apologized for what was about to become. I apologized because they had no idea about the significance of the events. That the world they were growing up in would not be as progressive, open, tolerant, and caring as the one we had imagined. I apologized because I lied when I told them that Hillary Clinton would be the next president (oh, I had taken great pride in knowing that the only presidents they would know in their lifetimes thus far would be a black man and woman). I apologized because I knew hatred would move from hidden to overt and would start that very day. When I left my younger son’s room I burst into tears in the hallway because one day they will understand. One day they will ask us how this happened, how America’s presidency went from moving toward greater equality for all citizens to one run by a con man, a misogynist, a bald-faced liar who makes fun of people with disabilities and surrounds himself with racists, anti-Semites, and bigots. How people chose to overlook hate in so many forms.

I slept maybe an hour that night. The next day I was supposed to go to Chicago for a conference, but cancelled those plans. It was important to be with family instead. The day went by in a fog. On the way to dropping my boys off at school we decided we’d write a letter to Hillary Clinton “because she must be so sad.” I folded laundry and watched Hillary’s concession speech and Obama’s speech on transitions of power—and I screamed at the TV because their calls to move on contribute to normalizing Trump’s hate. I went to the supermarket and walked down the aisles of fruit and cereal and milk wondering how these products were still here, in this place where nothing was the same; I wondered how long they would still appear on the shelves; I looked at the other shoppers, tried to gauge their level of fogginess, wondered if they thought I was a threat, tried to judge if they were. I picked my boys up early from school so we could make caramel apples. I made a healthy dinner for my family. That’s what needed to happen. I needed to make sure they had a healthy meal with such sadness in the house. I was in an alternate reality, trying to assuage the fact that we were post-normal with tufu and veggies and green pasta. I was Gregor Samsa waking up like a bug; Josef K. confronted with a menacing government; Neo seeing the Matrix for the first time; third-grade Philip in The Plot Against America who had been living his typical life in a suburb of Bayonne, NJ, when in June 1940 “the Republicans nominated Lindbergh and everything changed.”

That night I drank some Robitussin and slept most of Thursday. In the few hours I was awake, I started singing the closing verse of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” over and again:

Now Tom said, “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry new born baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me mom I’ll be there.
Wherever somebody’s fightin’ for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin’ hand.
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free,
Look in their eyes ma you’ll see me.”

I tweeted. A lot. More than I have in years, which is something because I tweet nearly every day. Lots of RTs and favs. I needed an outlet for my anger and a way to work through what I was feeling. Read others who were feeling the same way: Pissed off and ready to act. At some point I tweeted:

And that’s the crux of it for me: Millions of people chose to ignore (or embrace) outright hatred for one reason or another. And there is no excuse for that. Ever.

I don’t care what your singular issue is. If you voted for Trump because of the Supreme Court or gun rights or for change or whatever, at some some point you had to reconcile with yourself that it was okay to elect a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women by grabbing them by the pussy; who made fun of a disabled reporter; who conned people out of their money at a fake university; who incited violence at his rallies; who refused to disavow the KKK; who released a closing video ad that contained not-so-slightly veiled anti-Semitic motifs and talking points; and, most importantly, surrounded himself with racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, and bigots. At some point you said to yourself, “Yes, I can live with that. I can live with open anti-Semitism, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, bigotry, racism, and sexual assault at the highest level of government.” And even if you were voting against Hillary or for that one singular issue you have, your vote for Trump, in his eyes and the eyes of those who spew hatred, was an endorsement of all the horrible things he’s done and said and tweeted about people and all the hatred he surrounds himself with. In their eyes, it was appeasement—indeed Trump’s whole campaign was a lesson in how via the media incivility and hate become accepted through a process of appeasement by normalization. (When MSNBC is interviewing a representative of the KKK they are normalizing hatred.) It doesn’t matter if those weren’t your intentions. What matters is how it is interpreted. And what we know from history is that normalizing and appeasing hatred leads to acceptance and acceptance leads to actions and actions lead to violence and death.

We are already seeing those actions. Swastikas spray-painted on windows in Philly; a women told to sit in the back of the bus in Brooklyn; gay men and women openly attacked; black people in positions of authority insulted to their faces; middle school students taunting their classmates; students in the school district where I live chanting “Build the Wall” on the bus. USA Today reported that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate activity, has received over 200 complaints of violence against minorities, gays, and Jews—a level significantly higher than the attacks on Muslims just after 9/11.

Make no mistake: These attacks are a direct result of Trump winning (the Electoral College math despite losing the popular vote). Our current government isn’t addressing it (Obama’s just working as if this is a normal transition of power). And, indeed, the next administration will be the ones that perpetuate it (notorious wife-beating anti-Semite Steve Bannon has been selected as Chief Strategist and Senior Advisor). And when hatred is built into the institutions that are supposed to protect it’s citizens, violence and death come on a massive scale. That’s the story of Germany and Rwanda and Kosovo—and, yes, it could be the story of America.

Little acts of hatred are like drops in the water that ripple out. They become test cases for what is accepted. A Swastika spray-painted that invites no community response? An epithet that receives no indignation? A crowd watching a man get beaten without interfering? A protestor shot by a Trump supporter in Portland with no major response from the community or the government? Oh, these must be okay. Then Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones, borrowing a page from Rwanda, start telling people to attack. They do with escalating violence and death. Trump’s rallies would burst into chants to assassinate Hillary Clinton with no condemnation from Trump or anyone else. It could happen here. Very quickly. (Re-added after Senator Erickson’s press release: He will implement martial law and say it is “for our safety.” He will suspend elections and say “we have to wait until the illegal protestors are taken care of.” He will label the left terrorists, fire the judges he doesn’t like, and suspend the Constitution.) Don’t be fooled. If it happened elsewhere, it can happen here. America is not so great and so different.

* * *

Trump lost the popular vote by what is estimated to be 1.5 million votes. But, he and his racism and sexism and anti-Semitism squeaked through by winning Wisconsin by 27,257 votes, Michigan by 11,837 votes, and Pennsylvania by 68,236 votes. That’s 107,330 votes in three states. Clinton will beat him nationally by 1.5 million votes. By the time the counting is done, she will have received more votes than any white male candidate ever. In other words, approximately 3/4 of the country chose not to vote for Trump. They decided they could not support a sexist, misogynist, racist who has no governing experience. Millions more voted for Hillary Clinton. We cannot forget that. And he—and the media and your representatives at the local, state, and national levels—need to be reminded that he does not have a mandate to institute hate.

Because here’s the thing: It isn’t the numbers (though they are significant). When Bush beat Gore I was upset on a policy level. Neither Bush nor his staff ran on a platform of hate. He had done some stupid things in his life (as we all have) but he didn’t inspire violence at his rallies. He spoke out against attacking Muslims after 9/11—and he genuinely meant it. But, this is different. It isn’t policy; it’s personal. People are afraid for their safety, despite statements from Trump that they shouldn’t be. That’s what institutionalizing and normalizing hate does.

The only way to stop the hatred and complete destruction of civil liberties is to act. Now. Not tomorrow. Now. You will hear many people saying we should wait to see what Trump does or says. Don’t listen to them. You will hear people express shock at the thought that minorities will be singled out and attacked. Show them what is happening right now; it’ll be too late when they are put on trains and freighted out. You will hear the media repeat banal Trump surrogate talking points meant to placate the masses while simultaneously threatening those who disagree. You will hear Trump on 60 Minutes tell his supporters to stop the acts of violence. Don’t believe him; the men (yes, men–white men) he’s surrounding himself with welcome violence and racism and chaos. (So does Trump.) Speak back against such obvious appeasement.  The fact that Trump is in the position to be president of the most powerful country in the world is enough for the racists, bigots, and anti-Semites. Don’t ask me; go see what David Duke has to say (I refuse to link to him). On November 11, Cory Doctorow tweeted:

“Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as bait to catch masses of followers.” Take than in a minute. “Not so genuine or violent as it sounded.” Using anti-Semitism to attract the masses. We’re starting to hear the same thing from surrogates who say that Trump’s campaign bigotry was just to get attention and he won’t be so bad when he gets into office. (As if that wasn’t bad enough.) When asked if he regretted the use of racism and bigotry during his campaign, Trump responded, “No, I won.” He won.

The horror.

* * *

When I was a boy, my grandmother gave me a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem of identify formation, “If.” It’s a beautiful version, printed in Israel on faux 13″ x 17″ parchment paper with ornate corner decorations mounted on foam board. It hung in my room throughout my childhood. I took it with me to college. It’s edges are frayed and corners bent from use and moving. It’s been to as many states as I’ve lived in: NJ, NY, OH, TX, DE, and, now, in PA, it is in my older son’s room. I read over and over to both of my sons when they were infants. I’ve been thinking about the first verse quite a bit since the citizens of the United States of America went to the ballot box and okayed hate:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

This is all to say that waking up one morning with the realization that you very likely will be the victim of government sanctioned violence and ridicule causes you to evaluate who you are and what you believe. And it should cause all citizens to do the same, regardless of who they voted for.

Author and leadership trainer, Simon Sinek, has a wonderful theory called “The Golden Circle,” which he discussed in a TED talk in 2009. Here’s a clip:

The gist of his theory is that greatest brands and most inspiring leaders all have one thing in common: They all have a core belief (or system of beliefs) that determines how they act and what they produce through their actions. The Golden Circle has three layers: Why? How? and What? Why do you do what you do? How do you go about making that a reality? What do you produce through those actions? Most companies, he says, tell you what they produce but don’t tell you why. Apple, on the other the hand, is all about the why—that is, in Sinek’s words, “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” Here’s another organization that had a core belief that guided all their actions:

One of Hillary’s problems in the primaries was that her campaign had no Why? There wasn’t a core belief that seemed to be the foundation of all she did and wanted to achieve. When she finally beat Bernie in the primaries, she adapted his why—“bring people together”—to “Stronger Together” and made that the main focus of her campaign. One of her final campaign ads:

We can debate all day long if Bernie would have been a more successful candidate than Hillary. That’s not my goal. Rather, what I want to invite you to do is to ask yourself: What is my Why? What do I believe at my core, specifically about the people in my community? About how we should treat one another? How does that belief shape my actions?

I believe that all people, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion, national origin, and physical and mental ability, should be treated with respect. This core belief led me to take a job at Saint Joseph’s University, which has as part of it’s mission, a commitment to engaged citizenship and social justice. It took a while for me to realize that I needed to put my core values into actions. But, now I manifest that belief by running an organization on campus that partners students with non-profits that need help with their digital and social media communications.

It is also why I am so outraged at the thought of the Trump administration, fearful of what will happen to residents of the country, and realistic about the possibilities of my worst fears coming true. It is also why I am ready to stand up and make my voice heard.

If you share that belief—that all people, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion, national origin, and physical and mental ability, should be treated with respect—especially if you voted for Trump—then I suggest you should be outraged about the make up of the Trump Administration, concerned that minorities and other members of the community are being attacked for who they are, and very certain that if people don’t speak up, it will only get worse.

* * *

First Call to Action: Stand Up To Hate When You See It
When you see an act of hate in your community, stand up to it. Confront it. Get in it’s face. Show it that it doesn’t belong here, in this town, on this campus, in this country. Encourage your community to stand up together. Drown it out. I know how difficult it can be to stand up to hate. It is easier to ignore it. But know this: There are more people in your community who share your beliefs about equality than do not. Significantly more. Use that to your advantage.

An example: On December 3, 1993, in Billings, Montana, after months of escalating harassment of Jews and minorities, someone threw a rock through the window of a Jewish family’s 5-year old son’s room. The window was displaying a menorah. An editorial in the Billings Gazzette addressed the event next to a large menorah that readers could cut out:

On December 2, 1993, someone twisted by hate threw a brick through the window of the home of one of our neighbors: a Jewish family who chose to celebrate the holiday season by displaying a symbol of faith-a menorah-for all to see. Today, members of religious faiths throughout Billings are joining together to ask residents to display the menorah as a symbol of something else: our determination to live together in harmony, and our dedication to the principle of religious liberty embodied in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. We urge all citizens to share in this message by displaying this menorah on a door or a window from now until Christmas. Let all the world know that the national hatred of a few cannot destroy what all of us in Billings, and in America, have worked together so long to build.

The city responded. By the end of the week, nearly 10,000 homes displayed a menorah. Eventually, the attacks slowed and stopped. Frédéric Brenner memorialized the community response in Citizens Protesting Anti-Semitic Acts Billings, Montana, 1994:

Second Call to Action: Share Stories of Hate
At Saint Joseph’s University, I teach courses on storytelling. In those courses, I ask students to think about the power of stories to both document experience and enact change. We read oral histories and use oral history interview techniques because oral history subverts historical narrative. History has by and large been written by wealthy, educated white men. Oral history invites those who have been marginalized to share experiences that those white men didn’t know about, didn’t have room for, or didn’t care to include.

As Joan Sangster has written, “Class, race and ethnicity . . . create significant differences in how we remember and tell our lives: in some instances, these influences overshadow gender in the construction of memory. Cultural values shape our very ordering and prioritizing of events, indeed our notions of what is myth, history, fact or fiction.” Oral histories have the power to make visible that which is hidden by the media and ignored by our government. To document the undocumented. To subvert the popular narrative. To stand up in the face of an appeasing media and unrepresentative government. To help enact change. In other words, oral historians are activist curators of subversive texts.

we are the 99 percent storyDigital and social media have revolutionized the power of oral history and the importance of individual stories.  In the introduction to her important collection, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, Carolyn Forché, suggests that “the poetry of witness reclaims the social from the political and in so doing defends the individual against illegitimate forms of coercion. It often seeks to register through indirection and intervention the ways in which the linguistic and moral universes have been disrupted by events” (p. 43). Digital stories are the social media poetry of witness. They reclaim personal narratives that have been wrenched away by forces beyond their control. They bear witness to events that transform realities.

Example: We are the 99%.
We are the 99% is a Tumblr archive that emerged out of and then invigorated the Occupy Wall Street movement. One of the core beliefs of the Occupy movement was that 99% of the population was invisible. The Tumblr page brought faces to the movement—literally: People posted pictures of themselves holding holding often hand-written testimonies. The web site made the people and their stories visible and the method of presentation—faces with written texts—brought emotional resonance.

Example: #notokay
On October 7, 2016, bestselling author, Kelly Oxford, tweeted:

Kelly’s tweet was a response to Donald Trump bragging that he grabs women by the pussy. The response was overwhelming. Millions of women tweeted stories of their sexual assaults often including the hashtag #notokay. These women’s stories are 140-character oral histories that reveal a society replete with rampant sexual assault that has been allowed to exist below the radar. They are calls to action, demands for change.

Example: Shaun King Curates Post-Trump Hate Events
Activist writer Shaun King is curating and sharing a collection of post-election Trump supporter attacks on minorities, Jews, LGBTQ people, and women:

By continuing his essential work of curating and spreading videos of black men and women being harassed and killed by police, King is showing the importance of storytelling as an activist method. We need to bear witness to the events in our community, report them in social and other media, and speak out against them online and in real life. And we need to encourage others to do the same.

Third Call to Action: Lobby Government
Standing up for people and telling stories is not enough. We must lobby local, state, and national government to speak out about these events—and to speak even louder about Trump’s administration and take actions that can limit the damage white supremacists and other hate-mongers can do to civil liberties in this country. That means calling on Republicans, too.

Emily Ellsworth, who worked for Congress for 6 years, recently created a Twitter thread about contacting representatives. Her main advice:

I vow to start to calling my local, state, and national representatives on a weekly basis starting tomorrow. They need to hear from all of us who value our rights and the rights of all our fellow citizens.

* * *

On Sunday afternoon as I was planting bulbs with my son—a oddly optimistic activity considering my dread—I got lost in a daydream where Hillary Clinton and her team lobby Electoral College voters. They remind the voters of what an awesome responsibility they have: To chose a president worthy of the office. They remind the voters of Federalist No. 68, Hamilton’s discussion of the purpose of the Electoral College, in which he wrote:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the [constitutional] convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention.

The Electoral College was initially created to guard against candidates who may have been co-opted by foreign governments or are dangerous to the continued existence of the republic. In my daydream, Hillary’s team reminds the Electoral College voters that Trump was in touch with Russians during the election, that his appointment of a White Supremacist to the number 2 position of his cabinet devalues the Presidency and puts all citizens at risk, that they have a greater responsibility to the country than to one man. Then, they elect Hillary.

But that’s not the reality. Since Election Day, neither Hillary nor Barack Obama have, much to my consternation, taken Trump to task about the hate he is bringing to the White House. But, they should. As should all members of Congress—loudly and boldly and immediately. Obama is still our President. He needs to use his office and speak loudly against the forms of hate that are due to infect the Presidency. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 1.5 million votes. She has a duty to stand up for the people who voted for her. We were told over and again that Hillary Clinton doesn’t quit. Let’s show them what standing up and fighting back looks like. And encourage them to take our lead.

May you all be safe in this time of great change.

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